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MA vet will come home, 76 years after plane was lost

Operation Tidal Wave in 1943 (44th Bomb Group Photograph Collection/WikiCommons)

It was 11 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor that Joseph E. Finneran enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

He was part of a crew aboard a B-24 bomber based in Benghazi, Libya, during World War II. Finneran flew more than 20 missions before participating in operation Tidal Wave on Aug. 1, 1943. His plane was lost over the Romanian city of Ploiesti.

What was left of the crew’s remains, and the remains of the Romanian men caught by the wreckage, were buried by monks in a local cemetery with a white cross marking the site.

Now after decades of work by several military and volunteer organizations, a special ceremony will welcome Joseph E. Finneran home to Boston and to his hometown of Needham.

On Nov. 1, Finneran’s remains will arrive via commercial jet at Logan Airport, according to a military spokesperson. A week later, a wake will be held at the George F. Doherty & Sons Funeral Home in Needham. The next day, there will be a full military funeral and burial in Boston.

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His nephew, Bill Glennon, said the public is welcome to all of it.

“It’s a solemn thing, but it happened 75 years ago, so it’s really more joyous because he has been identified,” Glennon said from his Quincy home on Friday, surrounded by his uncle’s memorabilia.

“All the sorrow is over – that ended a long time ago – so it’s just to remember a guy who never had the opportunity to be honored as other soldiers did,” Glennon said.

“Plus, I love a party,” he added.

The American Graves Registration Command is an organization that searches for and recovers fallen American personnel in the years after World War II. When members discover unidentifiable remains, they call them X-Files. Finneran, his remains mixed with others, was X-File 5300. His remains were moved from where the monks had buried them to a cemetery in Neuville-en-Condrol, Belgium.

It wasn’t until 11 years ago that Glennon and members of his family provided DNA to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

“I sent off a swab – DNA – and my sister did that and a first cousin,” he said. “Before that, when I was growing up, when my mother talked about him, I always knew that he was missing in action.”

“When I started delving into this – find out, no he wasn’t missing in action – he was unidentified,” Glennon said.

There were two missions in Operation Tidal Wave. Glennon’s uncle flew in the first. The operations were part of an attempt to cripple or destroy key German oil fields in Romania. Flying about 200 feet above the ground, Finneran’s plane, “Old Baldy,” took a direct hit from an ant-aircraft gun manned by Romanian soldiers.

Finneran’s brother Jack also flew in the Air Corps during World War II. He survived, and it was through him that his brother’s wartime possessions came home.

“I first started hearing my uncle’s name when I was not even a teenager,” Glennon said. “I never thought back in the ’60s – they didn’t know what DNA was.”

A historical study produced by the DPAA provided a hint at who Joseph Finneran was, Glennon said.

“He was supposedly a very good guy – easy-going, good-natured,” Glennon remembers his mother telling him.

The historical research also helped the DPAA continue to work to find evidence to identify X-File 5300. As they found matches for other remains, a process of elimination helped them confirm Finneran’s remains for Glennon and other family members.

“It’s a wonderful story, and it’s also a story about how the government has this policy of leaving no one behind,” Glennon said of the work done to find a home for his uncle’s remains. “I grew up in the Vietnam generation, and the guys over there were so disrespected when they came back. I feel like it is my opportunity to honor him and honor the people that serve.”

“We would be speaking with German accents if it wasn’t for this generation,” he added.

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©2019 MetroWest Daily News